2021 MBAs To Watch: Farzana Mussa, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Farzana Mussa

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

“Curious about people, Farzana is a storyteller and photographer, bringing equity and art to business.”

Hometown: Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

Fun fact about yourself: I can speak 5 language, 3 of which I’ve picked up on my travel expeditions across East Africa, South Asia and Europe.

Undergraduate School and Degree: McGill University, B.A. Economics, Minors: Management and Sustainability

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Aga Khan Education Services in Nairobi, Kenya

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Deloitte – Toronto, Canada

Where will you be working after graduation?  Deloitte, Customer Strategy

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Forte Fellow Scholar
  • Co-President – Students Against Anti-Black Racism (SABR)
  • Vice-President – The Letters (LGBTQ2+)
  • Vice-President – LINKS Mentorship Program by Forte Fellows

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the Student’s Against Anti-Black Racism Association, which was launched at Rotman as a response to the Black Lives movement that spurred this past summer. It was a collective call to educate our student community on systemic racism and have a platform to discuss its impact within Rotman and in the business world.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of my role as Global Manager for the Aga Khan Education Services. The chance to advance quality education within some of the most rural and marginalized communities of East Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East was a life-changing opportunity!

Why did you choose this business school? Apart from being the leading business school in Canada, Rotman brought the creative element I was looking for with their pioneering Business Design program. In addition to this, the school put an emphasis on integrative learning where classroom pedagogy was supplemented by experiential learning programs such as the Creative Destructive Lab (a technology incubator) and the Leadership Development Lab.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Oh, that’s tough! Rotman brings together some of the brightest minds in terms of professors, which means we as students are exposed to the cutting edge of new research. Nouman Ashraf within Organizational Behaviour is my favourite. He taught me C-Suite Leadership, and this course gave me the space to truly reflect on my MBA for which I’m grateful.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Rotman hosts Culture Eats, which is an annual honouring of diverse cultures. This event is a fun way to explore the different cultures represented at the school through food, fashion, language, art, and more. Our cohort is very diverse already, and this gave me a chance to get to know and appreciate my fellow students even more.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? If I could go back, I’d make more of an effort to build friendships in my first year. Starting an MBA requires a lifestyle adjustment with managing school, networking, job search, etc. However, the genuine relationships I built during this time was one the most meaningful parts of the experience.

What is the biggest myth about your school? One of the biggest myths is that Rotman is a Finance School. While the school does have a strong Finance program, it also specializes in Business Design, Innovation and Entrepreneurship which are the areas that I enjoyed learning about most!

What surprised you the most about business school? If you are in a full-time program like I was, the MBA is immensely demanding of your time. While I learned about core business concepts, what I learned even more was how to manage my priorities, how to maintain a healthy wellness routine and how to ask for help when and if I needed it.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I told stories about my life, and I told them authentically. The MBA program is all about bringing your full self to school which meant that I talked about my artistic side, my travels, my fears, and my hopes. Show yourself authentically as you are.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Shanthi Purushotham. She is truly a life-long learner who approached the MBA as an opportunity to acquire knowledge, and not only as a means to an end, such as a job, which so many others do. In this pursuit, Shanthi didn’t see knowledge as currency and was always willing to share and teach others. I admire how she prioritized collegiality over competitiveness, and went above and beyond to push her limits during this program.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? Shifting online was actually not that bad! Rotman was able to quickly pivot to an online format through BB Collaborate which we already had experience using.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I met a friend in early 2019 who was applying to business school. We shared a similar background professionally and personally. Through them, I realized the MBA was a way to celebrate diversity of thought. I was excited that it could be a place where my various identities could not only live in harmony, but flourish. This decision was also inspired by the sacrifices of my parents who made the tough choice to uproot their lives as immigrants to Canada, so that I could have the privilege of do this work and pursue education.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I would like to start my own tech or consulting company that focuses on advancing social impact. I also plan to write a photo-documentary book highlighting intersectional identities explored through human story telling.

What made Farzana such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“At a moment that has exposed how historic racial, gender and class-based discrimination has been instrumental in creating vast economic, environmental, and social disparities that impact societal well-being, student leadership is vital. Farzana Mussa consistently represents someone who has actively sought out opportunities to work with the Equity Diversity and Inclusion at Rotman in both broadening public discourse and in empowering emerging leaders to become change agents in the movement toward an even more equitable learning community.

As one of the founders of Students Against Anti-Black Racism, Farzana has been a truth-teller who combines the sophistication of a strategist and the warmth of an ally to black students in holding space and amplifying their narratives. I have also had the privilege of having her in my Impact in the C-Suite elective course, and I was privileged to observe her ability to draw out ideas from her peers in a way that was sophisticated yet inclusive. I am excited to see how she inspires others in the next steps of her personal and professional journey!’”

Nouman Ashraf  
Assistant Professor
Director, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion
Rotman School of Management

DON’T MISS: THE FULL LIST OF MBAS TO WATCH IN 2021

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